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Croatian Language


Croatian Language Chronology

Pronunciation basics:
Č, č-as the "ch" in "check
Ć, ć-no English equivalent. Place the tip of the tongue behind the lower front teeth and try to produce a "mixed sound" between the "ch" of "check" and the "t" (actually "ty") of British English "tune". As it were, a “soft” č.
DŽ, dž-as the "j" in English "jar"
Đ, đ-no English equivalent. Place the tip of the tongue behind the lower front teeth and try to produce a "mixed sound" between the "j" of "jar" and the "d" (actually "dy") of British English "duke". A “soft” dž.
LJ, lj-as the British English pronunciation of the "lli" in "million", i.e., with a "clear 'l'" followed by a short "y"-sound
NJ, nj-as the "ni" in "onion", i.e., an "n" followed by a short "y"-sound
Š, š-as the "sh" in English "ship"
Ž, ž-as the "s" in "measure" or the "zh" in "Zhivago"
Nota bene:

Croatian Language Chronology


Indo-European and Slavic languages

  • 2000 B.C.E.- the formation of Balto-Slavic linguistic family.
  • 1500-1300 B.C.E. -disintegration of Balto-Slavic family followed by numerous languages changes characteristic for shape of future Slavic languages. The basic features of this period can be only approximately reconstructed by methods of comparative historical linguistics.
  • 4th -8th centuries- migrations of Slavic-speaking tribes that will definitely divide Slavic languages into three groups: eastern (Russian, White-Russian, Ukrainian, Ruthenian), western (Polish, Kashubian, Lower Sorabian, Upper Sorabian, Czech, Slovak) and southern (Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Church Slavonic).


600 to 1100
Latin and Church Slavonic literacy
Glagolitic Script as the medium of Croatian Church Slavonic
  • 7th to 9th  century. First Croatian “official” language was Latin and Croatian name is recorded in Latin inscriptions of Croatian rulers (dukes and kings) in the 9th century. 
Duke Branimir inscription, ca. 880
The earliest Croatian Dukes and Kings
  • 9th to 11th centuries: the dominance of Church Slavonic, first literary language of all Slavs, based on a south Macedonian dialect. In time, variants of  Church Slavonic emerge (Croatian, Russian, Czech, Serbian, Bulgarian), as a result of intrusion of the vernacular. First Croatian script, Glagolitic, was probably invented by missionaries from Thessalonica Cyril and Methodius (ca. 850), whose disciples, expelled from Moravia (contemporary Slovakia and Czech Republic), settled in Croatian lands. The originally “round” form of Glagolitic script soon becomes angular- the distinct feature of Croatian Glagolitic. Historicallly, the most important monument of early Croatian literacy is the Baška tablet (ca. 1100).
The Baška tablet, ca. 1100 
precious stone of Croatian literacy
Croatian Glagolitic Script
Old Church Slavonic Institute


1100 to 1500
Church Slavonic literature, dialectal differentiation and vernacular literacy
Cyrillic and Latin Script

  •   However, the luxurious and ornate representative texts of Croatian Church Slavonic belong to the later era when they coexisted with the Croatian vernacular literature. The most notable are the Missal of Duke Novak from Lika region in northwestern Croatia (1368), Evangel from Reims (1395, named after the town of its final destination), Missal of Duke Hrvoje from Bosnia and Split in Dalmatia (1404) and the first printed book in Croatian language (1483). Great migrations following the Ottoman invasion, the growing influence of Croatian or Bosnian Cyrillic and, finally, the prevalence of Latin script -both as the medium of western literature (sacral and secular) and the dominant, although not standardized Croatian script- all these factors spelled the doom of Glagolitic literacy. Croatian Glagolitic scriptory tradition died out, mainly, in the 17th century.  
Evangel from Reims, 1395
The Missal of Duke Hrvoje, 1404
Missale Hervoiae ducis Spalatensis Croatico-Glagoliticum
Croatian Glagolitic Manuscripts held outside of Croatia
  • 12th-15th centuries: the period of dialectal differentiation. Croatian dialects are, roughly, divided in three groups named after the dialectal word for interrogatory pronoun which is in Latin «quid» or in English «what»: ča-Čakavian (chakavian), što-Štokavian (shtokavian) and kaj-Kajkavian (kaykavian). These dialects and their subdialects have undergone further changes in next 5 centuries, but the central characteristics were virtually fixed by the 17th century. Phonetic, phonological and morphological differences between dialects vary from 4 to ca. 30 characteristic features, as does mutual intelligibility between both dialects and subdialects. Štokavian dialect was further divided into western branch (3 accents speech), spoken mainly by Croats, and eastern ( 2 accents speech), spoken predominantly by Serbs. Kajkavian was spoken in northwestern Croatia, Čakavian in western Croatia and Dalmatia (littoral, islands and hinterland), and western Štokavian in the northern Croatia/Slavonia, as well as in the greater part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the esternmost part of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the area of eastern Štokavian dialect).  
  • Another differentiating feature was the result of phonetic development of  Old Slavonic phoneme ě (jat). For instance, Church Slavonic word for a child, děte, became in three “jat reflexes”:
    -dite (i, hence Ikavian)
    -dijete (ije, hence Ijekavian)
    -dete (e, hence Ekavian)


These features are most prominent in Štokavian dialect (što-i, što-ije and što-e), but are present in other Croatian dialects (ča-i, ča-ije, kaj-e). The most widespread Croatian dialects, from 1400s on, have been Štokavian Ikavian and Ijekavian (što-i and što-ije), but other dialects, especially Čakavian (ča-i) and Kajkavian (kaj-e) played the prominent role (Čakavian influence dimmed in 17th century, and Kajkavian was consciously abandoned in 1830s by Illyrian movement that completed Croatian language unification by «officially» accepting neo-Štokavian dialect (a variant of Štokavian originating from the Neretva river basin in Herzegovina ca. 1500) as the basis of the Croatian standard language since it was the speech of more than 70% of the Croats and the dialect of the richest Croatian literature in past 350 years. Neo-Štokavian differs from older variants of Štokavian by 4 accents speech and a few (3-6) morphological structural changes.)

  • To complicate the situation further, this was the period when other scripts appeared and became influential on Croatian soil: Cyrillic («Povaljska listina»/The Povlja lintel, 1184), which soon adopted specific scriptory and morphological characteristics that made it different from other (Serbian and Bulgarian) versions of the Cyrillic, and Latin (ca. 1350). The Croatian (or Bosnian, since it was dominant in medieval Bosnia-hence the name «bosančica»/Bosnian script) Cyrillic was influential in parts of central and south Dalmatia, as well as in Bosnia, where it had been most widely used from 14th to 17th century; the Latin script gained ground in Croatian regions with most vigorous economic and cultural activity (Dalmatian littoral, northern Croatia) and by 1500s it was evident it will prevail at the end. 
Croatian Cyrillic Script
Croatian Heritage in Latin Script
  • First texts in purely vernacular language are: «Vinodolski zakon»/The Vinodol Codex (1288), «Istarski razvod»/Istrian land survey (1325) and «Šibenska molitva»/The prayer to Our Lady (ca. 1350)- all in Čakavian dialect; «Vatikanski hrvatski molitvenik»/The Vatican Croatian Prayer Book (ca. 1380-1400) in Štokavian-Ijekavian dialect. Kajkavian literature is much younger-it begins at the end of 16th century.

The Vinodol Codex, 1288

The Vatican Croatian Prayer Book, Dubrovnik, ca. 1380-1400


1500 to 1700
Modern Croatian language
Turkish invasion and migrations
Renaissance and Baroque regional literatures and standardization

  • During 16th and 17th centuries occurred many processes that shaped the profile of future Croatian standard language: the Ottoman invasion and permanent warfare, followed by mass depopulation and migrations have had at least four lasting consequences:
  • the area of Čakavian, the oldest Croatian dialect was greatly narrowed. Although the Renaissance literature in Čakavian vernacular achieved remarkable triumphs (epic and lyric poetry, novel) in the 16th century (especially on islands Hvar and Korčula and cities Split and Zadar, with key authors like Marko Marulić, Hanibal Lucić and Petar Zoranić), its demographic and cultural basis had soon become exhausted and Čakavian lost the chance to become the basis of Croatian national language.
  • Turkish conquests have been followed by migrations of Vlachs- mainly Slavicized shepherding paleo-Balkans populace from earlier conquered areas in Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Herzegovina. The result was expansion of neo-Štokavian dialect in Ikavian (što-i) and Ijekavian (što-ije) forms. The majority of settlers later nationally identified according to the faith they professed: the Eastern Orthodox Vlachs became Serbs and Roman Catholics became Croats.
  • The literature and lexicography in Kajkavian dialect appeared on the scene, but the most influential and promising was the literature in Čakavian-Kajkavian-Štokavian interdialect, based in central Croatia and supported by powerful Croatian nobles Zrinski and Frankopan (both writers themselves). However, this extraordinary activity that produced at least two major figures: polymath, forerunner of modern Croatian national ideology and script reformer Pavao Ritter-Vitezović and lexicographer Ivan Belostenec (his magnum opus, the 2,000 pages long Kajkavian-based interdialectal dictionary “Gazophylacium” (ca. 1670) was published some 60 years after its completion) was cut short by execution of Zrinski and Frankopan in Bečko Novo Mesto 1671, after a kangaroo trial orchestrated by the Vienna court-leaving Croatia literally decapitated for a time. The Kajkavian-based interdialect later flourished in north-western Croatia (in and around  Zagreb), but was essentially confined to a corner of Croatian language area and could not become transregional Croatian koine

Ivan Belostenec: Gazophylacium, 1740


  • the extraordinary flourishing and continuous influence of the southern Croatian Renaissance literature in Dalmatia, with centres in cities like Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, or islands Korčula and Hvar, laid the foundation for the idiom that was to became the basis of Croatian standard language. At first, it was written in Čakavian and Štokavian dialects (with strong dialectal interference, so that many features of Čakavian can be found in Štokavian and vice versa), but soon, after the depopulation and economic and cultural marginalization of other Dalmatian towns, the Dubrovnik writers, who wrote in increasingly unidialectal Štokavian-Ijekavian, remained alone on the scene. The key authors are poets Šiško and Vladislav Menčetić, Dominko Zlatarić, numerous poets from Ranjina's collection of sonnets and the dramatist Marin Držić.

Ranjina's collection of poems, 1508

A digital collection of poetry dating from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century
¦ What the Renaissance writers accomplished in the 16th century had been further developed and refined in the 17th. This period, sometimes called Baroque Slavism was crucial in formation of literary idiom that was to become Croatian standard language: the 17th  century witnessed luxuriance in three fields that shaped modern Croatian:
? The first one was represented by the linguistic works of Jesuit philologists Kašić and Mikalja: the first Croatian grammar, authored by Bartol Kašić under the title: “Institutionum linguae illyricae libri duo”, appeared in Rome 1604. Interestingly enough, the language of Jesuit Kašić's unpublished (until 2000) translation of the Bible (Old and New Testament, 1622-1636) in the Croatian Štokavian-Ijekavian dialect (the ornate style of the Dubrovnik Renaissance literature) is as close to the contemporary standard Croatian language (problems of orthography apart) as are French of Montaigne's “Essays” or King James Bible English to their respective successors - modern standard languages. The richness of Kašić's translation can be seen in the vocabulary: while the original Old Testament consists of 8,674 Hebrew words, and New Testament of 5,624 Greek words, the vocabulary of Kašić's Bible translation numbers near 20,000 words. However, Kašić's most influential book was “Ritual Rimski”/The Roman Ritual, a liturgical compendium that had been in use from 1640 to 1929 and has decisevely shaped the profile of Croatian language; Mikalja's “Thesaurus linguae Illyricae” was first respectable (25,000 Croatian entries) dictionary of Croatian language mainly in Štokavian-Ijekavian idiom. 
Bartol Kašić: Ritual Rimski/Roman Ritual, 1640

Mikalja: Blago jezika slovinskoga/Treasure of Illyrian language, Loreto 1649

  • another strong influence was the energetic literary activity of Bosnian Franciscan Matija Divković, whose Counter-Reformation writings (popular tales from the Bible, sermons and polemics) were widespread among Croats both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and played the crucial role in preserving and forging the cultural and linguistic unity among Croatian common people who lived in two empires: Ottoman and Habsburg. 
Matija Divković: Besjede/Orations, 1616


  • and, last but not least, the third strand was represented by aesthetically refined poetry of Ivan Gundulić and Junije Palmotić from Dubrovnik. Both writers explored stylistic nuances and expanded Croatian vocabulary. During this period (and frequently until 1850s) the ubiquitous name for Croatian language was Illyrian (or “Slovinski”) because Croats settled in the lands of Roman Illyricum and the Zeitgeist preferred “classical” designations; also, not infrequently, regional names (Bosnian, Dalmatian, Slavonian) had been used.This "triple achievement" of Baroque Slavism in first half of the 17th century laid the firm foundation upon which later Illyrian movement (1830-1850) completed the work of language standardization. 

Ivan Gundulić: Suze sina razmetnoga/Tears of the prodigal son, 1622

  • The entire process described above can be best summarized in Croatian linguist Dalibor Brozović's words: The Croatian language has evolved towards its goal throughout its history. Glagolitic and Cyrillic works were composed in the Latin script, but there are no reverse cases. Kajkavian and Čakavian writers wrote in Štokavian, but the reverse is unknown. The Štokavians who were not neo-Štokavians accepted the neo-Štokavian basis, but not the converse. The Ikavians wrote in Ijekavian, but not the other way around. The natural result is Croatian standard language, based on neo-Štokavian Ijekavian (što-ije) dialect and written in the Latin script.

1700 to 1900
Expansion of the Štokavian vernacular influence
Illyrian movement, final scriptory reform and language unification
  • Through the major part of the 18th century two seemingly contradictory processes had been under way: envigoration of literary activity in two Croatian dialects, Kajkavian (in the north-western part of Croatia) and Štokavian (in the rest of Croatia and in Bosnia); also, penetration of Štokavian influence on Kajkavian writers and local idiom. However, political and demographic factors again played the pivotal role: since the major parts of contemporary Croatia (Slavonia and Dalmatia) were liberated from Ottomans at the end of 17th century, these areas, where Štokavian dialect predominated, became centres of vigorous literary activity, mainly in the spirit of dominant Enlightenment and nascent Sentimentalism. Two enormously popular authors, a military officer from Slavonia 

Matija Relković and Dalmatian Fransciscan friar Andrija Kačić Miošić, became a sort of cult writers in the 18th century: their works, steeped in didacticism, folk wisdom and glorification of heroic (frequently imaginary) epic past, although cannot be, on aesthetic level, compared to best Croatian writing in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, played crucial role in the spread of neo-Štokavian dialect. They, along with numerous other writers and lexicographers from Slavonia, Dalmatia and Bosnia (although still under Turkish rule, Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina were ecclesiastically united with their compatriots in Slavonia and Dalmatia in one Franciscan province, Bosnia Argentina) set the scene for incipient «Illyrians»: the Baroque Slavism had created ornate and expressive idiom, but it was Kačić Miošić who, in his «Razgovor...»/»Discourse...» produced the summa of Croatian folk mythologies, integrated images of heroic, one might say Homeric past with the mundane purpose of Christian propaganda and gave to the Croatian people the first truly national book, unsurpassable bestseller that crossed regional, dialectal and class boundaries. 

Andrija Kačić Miošić: Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskoga/Pleasant Discourse of the Slovin people, 1756


  • The Illyrian movement, 1830-1850, centred in Croatia's capital Zagreb (where Kajkavian dialect predominated) and lead by Ljudevit Gaj, accomplished final cultural unification of Croatian people. This movement, also called Croatian national revival, was one among many similar European movements in the «spring of nations» following the period of Napoleonic wars. In the  case of Croatian revival, it was also the continuation of Ritter-Vitezović's scriptory reform and ideological pan-Croatism and Kačić Miošić's glorification of epic past, celebrated in verses paradigmatic of neo-Štokavian idiom. Its results in the field of language and linguistics can be summarized thus: «Illyrians» had given the final form of Croatian Latin script by adopting Czech and Polish diacritical marks and inventing a few exclusively Croatian graphemes and, by opting for the most widespread dialect among the Croats, Štokavian, had unified all Croats in one Croatian literary koine. Moreover, motivated by nuanced and far-sighted cultural politics, Illyrian central figures (politician and philologist Ljudevit Gaj, lexicographer, poet and politician Ivan Mažuranić, writer and polymath Ivan Kukuljević and philologist Vjekoslav Babukić) chose što-ije dialect as the basis of Croatian koine, instead of što-i, the native language-dialect of the majority of Croats. The reasons for such a decision were: 


  • the literature written in što-ije dialect, from 1500s on, has been the richest among Croatian regional literatures (and in many ways «older» than other, recently more developed «antagonist» literatures like German: of course, no Croatian poet of the time could «compete» with Goethe or Novalis) and could be used as the strong shield against German and Hungarian language «imperialism»- in the climate of Romanticism, the claims of «antiquity» of a national literature were particularly important. The «Illyrians» have, by adopting and further developing što-ije dialect and by elevating it to the status of Croatian official language (so far as circumstances in Habsburg Empire permitted) effectively halted Germanization (and other possible de-Croatization programs).   
  • The «Illyrians» worked in the climate of romantic Pan-Slavism that viewed all South Slavic languages as offshoots of one, «Illyrian language». Since Serbs, the geographically closest «Illyrian tribe», spoke što-e and što-ije dialects, and Croats što-i  and što-ije dialects, the only possible «intersection» was što-ije dialect. However, the history's final verdict was ironic:  Serbs, who didn't have a cultural tradition in što-ije dialect abandoned it for standard  language based on more popular and widespread što-e dialect. On the other hand, post-medieval Croatian cultural and linguistic identity, formed in the 16th and 17th centuries, definitely crystallized around što-ije based standard language. «Illyrian» and South Slavic illusions of linguistic unity of South Slavs had not passed the reality check.
  • The Illyrian movement and its successor, the Zagreb philological school, have been particularly successful in creating the corpus of Croatian terminology that covered virtually all areas of modern civilization. In short- they extended and systematized the purist tendencies already present in the by then more than 400 years old Croatian vernacular literature and lexicography. This was especially visible in two fundamental works: Ivan Mažuranić's and Josip Užarević's:"German-Croatian dictionary" from 1842 and Bogoslav Šulek's "German-Croatian-Italian dictionary of scientific terminology", 1875. These works, particularly Šulek's, systematized (ie., collected from older dictionaries), invented and coined Croatian terminology for the 19th century jurisprudence, military schools, exact and social sciences, as well as numerous other fields (technology and commodities of urban civilization). So, the “Illyrians” assimilated and expanded central Croatian linguistic traits: strong loyalty and respect towards Croatian literary and philological heritage combined with linguistic purism and word-coinage. The only field where “Illyrians” partially failed was orthography: they, contrary to the tradition of mainly phonemic Croatian orthography (from 1200s on), which is best suited for a “transparent” language like Croatian (or Latin, Spanish or Italian)  adopted, in the spirit of pan-Slavism, predominantly morphonological orthography (better suited for “intransparent” languages like Czech or Polish). But, this was a minor setback (later corrected by orthographic manual authored by Ivan Broz in 1892) compared to their triumphs in the vital areas of scriptory unification, definite language standardization based on što-ije dialect and continuation and extension of dominant tendencies embedded in Croatian literary and linguistic tradition.
Bogoslav Šulek: Rječnik znanstvenoga nazivlja/ Croatian-German-Italian diction­ary of scientific terminology, 1875


  • The 19th century language development overlapped with the upheavals that befell Serbian language. It was Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, an energetic and resourceful Serbian language and culture reformer, whose scriptory and orthographic stylization of Serbian Cyrillic script and reliance on folk idiom made a radical break with the past; until his activity in the first half of the 19th century, Serbs had been using Serbian variant of Church Slavonic and hybrid Russian-Slavonic language. His “Serbian Dictionary”, published in Vienna 1818 (along with the appended grammar), was the single most significant work of Serbian literary culture that shaped the profile of Serbian language (and, the first Serbian dictionary and grammar until then). Karadžić chose što-ije dialect as the basis for emerging Serbian standard language (although virtually all works (covering the fields of literature, lexicography and philology) written in što-ije dialect in 350 years preceding his reforms belonged to the Croatian culture and were, logically,  considered by eminent contemporary Serbian scholars as something alien and non-Serb) because, as a folklorist, he was impressed by the folk poetry idiom (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Muslim) expressed in što-ije dialect. Although the majority of Karadžić's reforms triumphed among Serbs after a struggle that lasted more than 5 decades- his choice of što-ije dialect as the basis for standard Serbian was largely abandoned. A small part of Serbs still uses što-ije based Serbian literary language, but the “variant” based on što-e is vastly predominant among Serbs. Karadžić's work was the revolution for Serbs; yet his influence on Croatian language was only one of the reforms, mostly in some aspects of grammar and orthography since the majority of his innovations had been present in Croatian literary and linguistic corpora for centuries.


  • But- now has begun the process that entangled Croats and Serbs in the unstable situation of two nations sharing virtually the same language according to genetic linguistics- but having frequently divergent political aims. Due to the fact that both languages shared the common basis of South Slavic neo-Štokavian dialect, they interfered in many normative issues, particularly in orthography, phonetics, syntax and semantics. On one hand, there was Serbian language, based upon rustic folk idiom and, as it were, “untainted” by history in the time of its “official” birth in the mid-1800s. On the other side stood Croatian language, moulded by more than 4 centuries old Croatian vernacular literature in all three dialects- a language steeped in history; also, a language formally shaped by linguists and writers very conscious of deceptions of the past and wary of idealization of purely folklore-based standard language. The situation of two nations with similar and mutually intelligible, but different languages (not unlike Bulgarian-Macedonian, Hindi-Urdu, Malay-Bahasa Indonesian, Czech-Slovak “pairs”) frequently led to polemics where language was used as a political tool in ethno-territorial disputes. However, in the 19th century will for cooperation dominated over language squabbles: following the incentive of Austrian bureaucracy which preferred some kind of "unified" Croatian and Serbian languages for purely practical administrative reasons, Slovene philologist Franc Miklošič (the Habsburg crown man of confidence) initiated a meeting of two Serbian philologists (including Vuk Karadžić) and writers together with five Croatian "men of letters" (Ivan Kukuljević and Ivan Mažuranić among them). This, so-called "Vienna agreement" in 1850, on the basic features of unified "Croatian or Serbian" or "Serbo-Croatian" language was signed by all eight participants (including Miklošič), but did not have any effect in practice. Essentially, a more "unified" standard appeared at the end of 19th  century with Croatian sympathizers of Vuk Karadžić, so called "Croatian Vukovians", who wrote first modern (from the vantage point of dominating neo-grammarian linguistic school) grammars, orthographies and dictionaries of language they called "Croatian or Serbian" (Serbs preferred Serbo-Croatian). The key works were: the crucial orthographic manual based on phonemic principle (in accordance with Renaissance and Baroque Croatian writing, but differing from mainly morphonological, Czech language-based orthography preferred by “Illyrians”) by Ivan Broz (1892), monumental grammar authored by preeminent fin de siecle Croatian linguist Tomislav Maretić (1899) and dictionary by Broz and Iveković (1901). These books temporarily fixed the elastic (grammatically, syntactically, lexically) standard of this hybrid language. However, the linguistic prescriptions of this school in many areas ignored multicentenary Croatian literary and philological tradition (mainly in the fields of vocabulary and linguistic purism), so only those rules that have had roots in the literary canon were accepted; others have been ignored by modernist avant guarde writers and “officially” abandoned by later linguists influenced by French structuralism of de Saussure and Prague school of Jakobson and Trubetzkoy. Needless to say, the colloquial language remained generally unaffected by such nuances.   


1900 to the present
Language and politics

Birth and death of Yugoslav supra-national program


  • But, due to the fact that these two languages have had a radically different past of almost four hundred years and only a few decades of moderately peaceful convergence- it was inevitable that they should eventually diverge. The Croatian good will quickly evaporated in Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia (1918-1941), when political pressures were applied to forge them into one, Serbian-based language- all in the spirit of supra-national Yugoslav ideology which had had roots in the 19th century idealization of South Slavic «unity», but has mutated into a variant of Greater Serbian expansionist program. This kind of «language planning», ie. forced Serbianization of language in Croatia and Bosnia, was especially ruthless in 1920s and 1930s, when Serbian language characteristics (lexical, syntactical, orthographical and morphological) had been officially prescribed for Croatian textbooks and general communication. Also, this artificial "unification" into one, Serbo-Croatian language was preferred by neo-grammarian Croatian linguists (the most notable example was influential philologist and translator Tomislav Maretić). The recipe was simple: if a term is described by two words in Croatian (a neologism and Greek/Latin Europeanism) and one word in Serbian (Europeanism)- the "choice" was to suppress Croatian neologism and "promote" Europeanism. For instance, "geography" is "geografija" in Serbian, and "zemljopis" and "geografija" in Croatian. The policy was to try to establish "geografija" as the norm and to eliminate "zemljopis". However, this school was virtually extinct by late 1920s and since then leading Croatian linguists (Petar Skok, Stjepan Ivšić and Petar Guberina) have been unanimous in re-affirmation of Croatian purist tradition. The situation somewhat eased in the eve of World War 2, but with the capitulation of Yugoslavia and creation of Nazi-Fascist puppet «Independent State of Croatia» (1941-1945) came another, this time hardly predictable and extremely grotesque attack on standard Croatian: totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelić pushed natural Croatian purist tendencies to ludicrous extremes and tried to reimpose older morphonological orthography preceding Broz's prescriptions from 1892. But, Croatian linguists and writers were strongly opposed to this travesty of “language planning”- in the same way they rejected pro-Serbian forced unification in monarchist Yugoslavia (1918-1941). Not surprisingly, no Croatian dictionaries or Croatian grammars had been published during this period.    


  • While during monarchist Yugoslavia "Serbo-Croatian" unification was motivated mainly by Greater Serbia policy, in the Communist period (1945 to 1990) it was the by-product of Communist centralism and "internationalism". Whatever the intentions, the result was the same: the suppression of basic features that differ Croatian language from Serbian language-from orthography to vocabulary. No Croatian dictionaries (apart from historical "Croatian or Serbian", conceived in the 19th century) appeared until 1985, when Communist centralism was well in the process of decay. In Communist Yugoslavia, Serbian language and terminology were "official" in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media and jurisprudence at Yugoslav level; also, the language in Bosnia and Herzegovina was gradually Serbianized in all levels of educational system and the republic's administration. Serbian linguistic imperialism was encouraged by the Communist Party-State, which had replaced the Western concept of Nation-State in the Communist countries or the Eastern Byzantine concept of the Church-State with its Messianic politico-religious Orthodoxy. Notwithstanding the declaration of intent of AVNOJ (The Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia) in 1944, which proclaimed the equality of all languages of Yugoslavia (Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian)-everything had, in practice, been geared towards the supremacy of the Serbian language. This was done under the pretext of "mutual enrichment" and "togetherness", hoping that the transient phase of relatively peaceful life among peoples in Yugoslavia would eventually give way to one of fusion into the supra-national, essentially paradoxical  "Yugoslav" nation and provide a firmer basis for Serbianization to be stepped up. However- this "supra-national engineering" was doomed from the outset: the nations that formed ephemeral Yugoslav state were formed long before its incipience and all unification pressures only poisoned and exacerbaced inter-ethnic/national relations.  


  • After World War II, Yugoslavia was established as a federation. In the 1950s, a hundred years after the Vienna Agreement whose aim was to establish the Serbo-Croatian language, the differences between the Croatian and Serbian literary languages had not lessened. They were the result of several contrasting factors
  • Croatian vs. Serbian literary tradition
  • Latin vs. Cyrillic script
  • Ijekavian variant of Štokavian as the basis for the Croatian literary language vs. Ekavian   variant of Štokavian as the basis for the Serbian literary language
  • Broz/Boranić's orthography for the Croats vs. Belić's orthography for the Serbs
  • Croatian technical and scientific terms vs. Serbian technical and scientific terms
  • Croatian religious and philosophical heritage and terminology vs. Serbian religious and philosophical heritage and terminology.
  • Croatian language structural characteristics vs. Serbian language structural characteristics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics)


The single most important effort by ruling Yugoslav Communist elite to erase the "differences" between two languages and in practice impose Serbian Ekavian language, written in Latin script, as the "official" language of Yugoslavia is the so called Novi Sad Agreement. Twenty five Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin philologists came together in 1954 to sign the Novi Sad Agreement (named after the town of this event). A common Serbo-Croatian or Croato-Serbian orthography was compiled in an atmosphere of state repression and fear. There were 18 Serbs and 7 Croats in Novi Sad. The «Agreement» was seen by the Croats as a defeat for the Croatian cultural heritage. According to the eminent Croatian linguist Ljudevit Jonke, it was imposed on the Croats. The conclusions were formulated according to goals which had been set in advance, and discussion had no role whatsoever. In more than a decade to follow the principles of Novi Sad Agreement were put into practice.
A collective Croatian reaction against such de facto Serbian imposition erupted on 15th March 1967. On that day, nineteen Croatian scholarly institutions and cultural organizations dealing with language and literature (Croatian Universities and Academy), including foremost Croatian writers and linguists (Miroslav Krleža, Radoslav Katičić, Dalibor Brozović and Tomislav Ladan among them) issued the "Declaration Concerning the Name and the Status of the Croatian Literary Language". In the Declaration, they asked for amendment to the Constitution expressing two claims: 


  • the equality not of three but of four literary languages, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian, and consequently, the publication of all federal laws and other federal acts in four instead of three languages
  • the use of the Croatian standard language in schools and all mass communication media pertaining to the Republic of Croatia. The Declaration accused the federal authorities in Belgrade of imposing Serbian as the official state language and downgrading Croatian to the level of a local dialect.

Notwithstanding the fact that "Declaration" was vociferously condemned by Yugoslav Communist authorities as an outburst of "Croatian nationalism"-Serbo-Croatian forced unification was essentially halted and the uneasy status quo remained until the end of Communism. The sterility of Yugoslav ideology and its detrimental effects on linguistic culture can be best exemplified by scarcity of Croatian dictionaries, grammars and other  works that had appeared from 1920 to 1980- and the marginalization or prohibition of those works (especially studies in sociolinguistics and phonology, orthographic manuals and grammars) that were written from the vantage point of modern linguistic theories. The Serbo-Croatian «unity» could be preserved only by reliance on dated philological schools that belonged properly to the 19th century. Also, when compared to earlier periods- both quantity and quality of Croatian language works officially allowed by the regime heavily lagged behind those published in the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries. 

  • In the decade between the death of Yugoslav dictator Tito (1980) and the final collapse of Communism and Yugoslavia (1990/1991), major works that manifested irrepressibility of Croatian linguistic culture had appeared. The studies of Brozović, Katičić and Babić that had been circulating among specialists or printed in the obscure philological publications in the 60s and 70s (frequently condemned and suppressed by Communist authorities) have finally, in the climate of dissolving authoritarianism, been published in the broad daylight. This was formal «divorce» of Croatian language from Serbian (and, strictly linguistically speaking, death of Serbo-Croatian). The works, based on modern fields and theories (structuralist linguistics and phonology, comparative-historical linguistics and lexicology, transformational grammar and areal linguistics) revised or discarded older «language histories», restored the continuity of Croatian language by definitely reintegrating and asserting specific Croatian language characteristics (phonetic, morphological, syntactic and lexical) that had been constantly suppressed in both Yugoslav states and finally gave modern linguistic description and prescription of Croatian language.  Among many monographs and serious studies, one could point out to works issued by Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, particularly Katičić's «Syntax» and Babić's «Word-formation». 
Radoslav Katičić: Sintaksa hrvatskoga književnoga jezika/Syntax of Croatian Literary Language, 1986
 Stjepan Babić: Tvorba riječi u hrvatskom književnom jeziku/Word-formation in Croatian Literary Language, 1986   


  • After the collapse of Communism and the birth of Croatian independence (1991), situation with regard to the Croatian language has become stabilized. Finally freed from political pressures and de-Croatization impositions, Croatian linguists expanded the work on various ambitious programs and intensified their studies on current dominant areas of linguistics: mathematical and corpus linguistics, textology, psycholinguistics, language acquisition and historical lexicography. From 1991 numerous representative Croatian linguistic works were published, among them four voluminous monolingual dictionaries of contemporary Croatian, various specialized dictionaries and normative manuals (the most representative being the issue of Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics). For a curious bystander, probably the most noticeable language feature in Croatian society was re-Croatization of Croatian language in all areas, from phonetics to semantics- and most evidently in everyday vocabulary. Some observers with Yugoslav affinities deplored such a course of events. But, having in mind the vocal silence of such “multiculturalist” proponents of Serbo-Croatian when Croatian orthographies were literally burnt in auto-da-fes (1971), one can only conclude with regard to the death of this “language”: qualis vita, et mors ita !
Jure Šonje (ured./edit.): Rječnik hrvatskoga jezika/Croatian Dictionary, 2000
Institut za hrvatski jezik i jezikoslovlje: Hrvatski jezični savjetnik, 1999
Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics: Croatian Language Counsellor, 1999



Ivo Banac: Main Trends in the Croatian Language Question, Yale University Press, 1984
Branko Franolić: A Historical Survey of Literary Croatian, Nouvelles editions latines, Paris, 1984
Milan Moguš: A History of the Croatian Language, Globus, Zagreb, 1995
Miro Kačić: Croatian and Serbian: Delusions and Distortions, Novi Most, Zagreb, 1997


Croatian language history

Croatian language from the eleventh century to the computer age
FOLIA CROATICA-CANADIANA: A magnificent 243 pages (3.4 Mb)
long survey on all aspects of Croatian language history. Slow download.
Representative texts in Croatian
A digital collection of poetry dating from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century
The major Croatian works from the Renaissance to the early Modernism
Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević: collected works
Tin Ujević- selected poetry
Miroslav Krleža- selected prose, short stories and a novel
Mak Dizdar- selected poetry
Bible in Croatian (searchable text)
Croatian standard language
Croatian language: introduction, pronunciation and basic phrases
Croatian National Corpus
Old Church Slavonic Institute
Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences: The Department od Philological Sciences
Institute for Croatian Language and Linguistics
Zagreb University, Faculty of Philosophy: Croatian Department
Lexicographic Institute Miroslav Krleža
Matica hrvatska
Croatian Old Dictionary Portal 






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